Focusing on the turnover of a facility and understanding how operations and maintenance staff will maintain a facility during its life span is a critical part of the design and commissioning phases that is often overlooked. Working with an integrated project delivery company, is one way to have a building operate as expected day one and day 7,000.

When buildings are maintained properly, they last longer and have increased efficiencies. This helps building owners and operators save money on expensive construction and energy costs.

Designers should be asking questions about the plan to maintain a building at the same time they are talking to clients about a building’s operations. Project designers need to focus on the individuals who must maintain a building and its equipment. If O&M staff do not have decent workspaces or if maintaining a facility and its equipment is extremely dangerous or labor intensive, it can hamper workers’ moods, performance and productivity and ultimately impact a facility’s life span. 

With thorough O&M planning from the onset, owners and operators can maximize operational savings. This approach can also limit the negative impact of a building’s construction and operation on the environment and provide healthier, more user-friendly spaces that offer an improved sense of well-being for all.

Since the benefits of O&M planning often are more complex to calculate than straightforward costs, traditional accounting that ignores social and environmental benefits will often underestimate the true value of O&M considerations.

Similar to the snowball effect, one O&M refinement can trigger multiple savings and other benefits. Likewise, one misstep can also be multiplied. When designing a building, keep the following in mind:

Talk to operations and maintenance workers early and often. High-performance building outcomes demand an integrated team approach throughout the development process, particularly during the design phase. Collecting insight from a multitude of users can eliminate redundant efforts and costs, reduce errors and help identify building synergies.

For example, discussions on how the equipment will be replaced or serviced could lead to an additional loading capacity on beams that could help during the removal of equipment or replacement of parts. Planning for filter changes or the replacement of a transformer can allow O&M staff to maintain systems per the National Fire Protection Agency’s NFPA 70B. This will make for a safer workplace. Another real-world example includes looking at the maintenance equipment and spare parts already on campus, reducing storage space, assessing the need for new equipment and identifying training requirements. Additionally, simple considerations like expanding sidewalks by a few inches can eliminate the need to regularly resod ground on the sides of walkways after winter snow removal. These are just a few examples of challenges a design team might be asked to consider when receiving input from O&M employees early.

Improve quality of life at work for O&M staff. Seemingly small betterments can make a significant difference in the lives and attitudes of O&M employees. This includes incorporating tables, chairs, and built-in computer stations in maintenance workspaces, as well as widening doors and corridors so that it is easier to transport equipment and replacement parts. Other considerations should include introducing natural light into normally dark workspaces; putting separate break rooms in maintenance areas; and installing proper lighting, ventilation, heating and cooling in mechanical spaces, since these areas will be occupied from time to time.

Consider anticipated capital requirements. You may have the latest and greatest technology and equipment available now, but what about the future? Will your equipment need minor retrofitting or a major overhaul in the next five, 10 or 20 years? Are you considering future trends? Have you accounted for an increase in foot traffic or changes in demographic and psychographic factors? All systems in a building — from heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) to windows and roofs — will need to be replaced during the life of a building. So, we need to design in a way to replace these systems easily. While planning can seem like peering into a crystal ball, planning for the replacement of systems is an indicator of thoughtful design.

Not planning for future operations and maintenance can result in high repair costs and overly complicated or dangerous maintenance; shortening the life span of a facility and its equipment because maintenance isn’t done properly, if at all; and safety hazards caused by improper maintenance of buildings and equipment. Knowledge and awareness of operations and maintenance procedures and concerns upfront can ultimately help streamline projects and enhance lifetime building and equipment performance.

Engaging in the commissioning process in predesign is one way to increase the likeliness that O&M considerations will be made in the design of the new facility. Commissioning can help a facility achieve its maximum efficiency and life expectancy by identifying potential maintainability issues early in the design phase. The commissioning process will help building owners and facility managers verify that the building’s systems and equipment are installed and working correctly.


Looking forward with the end in mind is a vital piece of the design-build process and can help save time and money when constructing a facility.

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David Meyers is director of commissioning for Burns & McDonnell. He manages 140 commissioning professionals in 23 cities, providing services to healthcare, higher education, government, manufacturing, aviation, commercial, retail and corporate clients.